Researcher Spotlight: Erin Sills

Erin Sills is the Edwin F. Conger Professor and Department Head of Forestry and Environmental Resources in the College of Natural Resources at NC State University. Sills researches markets and payments for non-timber forest benefits, forest-based livelihoods and economic development, and deforestation and land use in the tropics.

Sills is currently working on a National Science Foundation project “Connections between Water and Rural Production: Sociohydrological Systems on a Tropical Forest Frontier.” This project investigate show farmers adapt their production systems when they experience water variability, what adaptations they make, and whether these adaptations reduce income losses when droughts occur. The group focuses on the impacts of  “green water” (soil moisture) and “blue water” (surface/ground water) on farmer production and land-use. Sills and her fellow co-PIs and students also examine how the conversion of forests to pasture affects the regional climate and flows of water throughout the landscape. Improved understanding of these feedbacks will inform efforts by government agencies and civil society to help farmers respond to water scarcity and build more resilient livelihoods. Katrina Mullan, associate professor of economics at the University of Montana, is the Principal Investigator.

Sills is also  conducting an impact assessment on energy poverty in southern Africa. The project, called “Energy Poverty PIRE in Southern Africa” (EPPSA) seeks to understand the impact of strategies to improve access to modern energy services in southern Africa. This complex problem requires an interdisciplinary team of engineers, economists, sociologists and other experts to propose solutions.

EPPSA will foster and maintain a network of academic, practitioner, and policy communities to fill critical gaps for mitigating energy poverty in Southern Africa. EPPSA will train over 70 postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate researchers from disciplines as diverse as anthropology and engineering in interdisciplinary collaborative research in low resource international settings.

EPPSA is funded by the National Science Foundation Partnerships in International Research and Education (PIRE) Program. The EPPSA started January 2018 and will run for 5 years.

Erin Sills’ research contributes to coordinated efforts to improve living conditions and livelihoods in South America, southern Africa and beyond.